July 9, 2011
CNN reports on BERSIH2.0 Walk for Democracy: Police clash with Civil Society
Police fired tear gas as several thousand people gathered near a sports stadium where the demonstrators had planned to rally.
Some 1,667 people had been arrested as of early evening local time, according to the Royal Malaysia Police, with 16 children among them. Protest organizers said at a news conference earlier in the day that about 400 had been detained.
The protest, which the government says is illegal, was organized by a loose coalition of opposition groups known as Bersih 2.0.
The government has previously declared Bersih an illegal organization. Police said that anyone found with Bersih-related materials, such as yellow T-shirts, could be arrested.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was among hundreds of protesters who gathered at the Hilton hotel in Kuala Lumpur before heading toward the Sentral Station. There the protesters breached police lines to march through the rail station, before being met by riot Police with tear gas on the other side.
Writing on his blog ahead of the protest, Ibrahim said the “intended peaceful gathering” was to bring Malaysians together “as one united people in pursuit of clean and fair elections.”
He went on: “Our reason for gathering is pure and simple — to demand that the electoral roll be cleaned, that the postal voting system be reformed, that indelible ink be used, a minimum 21 day campaign period be instated, free and fair access to media for all be provided, public institutions be strengthened, and for corruption as well as dirty politics to be stopped.”
The protesters planned to rally at the Merdeka sports stadium in the city, Ibrahim said. Opposition groups have been seeking to put pressure on Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government, which has been in power for decades, ahead of elections expected to be called next year.
The Malaysian state news agency Bernama reported that the prime minister had attended an event Saturday at which he described the protest as “an illegal rally organised by a section of our community.”
“If there are people who want to hold the illegal rally, there are even more who are against their plan to hold the illegal gathering,” he is quoted as saying.
There was a strong police presence around the city and many roads had been closed off, local media reports said.
A similar demonstration called by the Bersih coalition in 2007 was broken up by Police using water cannon and tear gas, local reports say.
CNN’s Eve Bower contributed to this report.